France | Travel

The best year of my life

January 8, 2019

I had the best time of my life in France. Best, not because it was all happy and no sadness. In fact, there were so many times I was overwhelmed with emotional burdens that I just wanted to go home. But it was the best because I learned so much and made so many friends that changed me forever.

Looking at the mountains

Self discovery

In the first couple of months after I arrived, I struggled so badly because I felt alone here. I didn’t have friends I could rely on, I barely went out, I was mourning the death of a treasured friend, I struggled with language barriers and cultural differences. But those first few months also taught me a lot about who I am and who I want to be. When I was all alone and away from all that I was familiar with, I questioned my very existence on earth and who I am apart from my gender, ethnicity, culture, country, family and friends. I asked myself who I am at the very core of me and I realized that I am not just another 28 year old Singaporean Chinese girl and everything else I had described myself to be. Though I wouldn’t say that I have a complete understanding of who I am now, but I certainly learned much more about who I am not, and discovered more about what I want, what I love, and what I treasure most, compared to one year ago. That, for me, is one of the greatest rewards one can have, to see oneself and our place on earth.

Getting ready for a long hike and camping at Lac Blanc

Challenging personal limits and cultural differences

I love adventure, and I’m always up for doing what people around me would consider “crazy”, so much so that I gave up telling people about my plans because all the comments I get is, “You’re crazy.” Well, I still don’t think anything I’ve done so far is too crazy, and I still enjoy challenging myself to try things that I want to do just because I want to, and am at the same time learning to ignore the comments people make.

Leaving home to work for and with a family as an au pair is the first thing I challenged myself with because of the culture I grew up in. While this job is very common here in Europe, being a babysitter or nanny is viewed upon as a lowly job in Singapore, simply because most “babysitters/nannies” are hired as domestic helpers or maids, which usually carries the connotation that you are either lowly educated, or come from a poor family/country. This is, however, completely untrue for au pairs, which was a huge barrier for me to cross, as I had to explain what I do to friends and family back in Singapore that this was by no means a lowly job, even though no job should be consider or labeled as “lowly”. It also gave me new perspective to how I see jobs and people. I understood at a deeper level that our jobs doesn’t determine or define who we are and who we’d become.

Hitchhiking from gas station in France

Another very common thing to do here that is regarded as dangerous and “crazy” by people back home, is hitchhiking. In the summer break, I embarked on a short hitchhiking trip covering more than 800 km (about Singapore to border between Malaysia and Thailand) from my home in France to my friends’ places in Frankfurt, Germany. Before I began the trip, I had no idea what to expect and what I was doing. All that I knew and learned were mere words from the internet about other people’s experiences. Not knowing what I was getting myself into, I bought myself a tarp and a sleeping bag, grabbed my backpack and just walked out from our front door with some euros in my pocket. It was one of the most amazing adventures I’ve had. I met so many wonderful people and it restored my faith in humanity. Even though it was tiring, those were some of the most fulfilling days of my solo adventures. I’d always dreamed of being a nomad and living off the earth and that trip in summer 2018 opened my eyes to see the unlimited possibilities of the kind of life I wanted to pursue. I had never felt freer than I did that one night I spent in my small tarp and sleeping bag. For the first time in my life, I felt truly self sufficient, unburdened by the rules of civilization and modern society!

Going to church after beer fest

Interdependency and intimacy

I am beyond thankful for all the people that I’ve met and the friends I’ve made in the past year. I’ve lived most of my life being independent and basically being a pillar for others to lean on, so much so that I never really knew how to rely on others and let people help me in my times of need. The many events that happened in the last couple of years really broke me and until I left the comforts of my home in such a difficult time, I didn’t realize that I needed help too. I am really grateful for the most wonderful host family I could ever ask for because of their hospitality and inclusiveness. They taught me a lot about the French way of life and were great support knowing that I had just lost a dear friend before coming to France. Without them, I would have given up and flew back home and would not have met all the wonderful people who are now my lifelong friends (hopefully).

After the initial months of struggling with adjusting to the new way of life and with the encouragement of my most wonderful host mom, I started opening myself up and making friends. Then, suddenly, I found myself surrounded by all these wonderful people who made me realize again that the world is full of hope and dreams, and that life can still be full of color. I met people who were like me, who don’t have a clue what they are doing with their lives and who just wanted to try something different, I met people who know where they are heading and are so focused on their goals no matter how far away they are from them, I met people who just want to live carefree lives and let the wind take them where it leads, I also met people who though very disillusioned with life, chose to continue and fight with passion and determination because they won’t let life beat them up, and I met people who made the tough decisions and gave up on things that meant a lot but that also caused them to lose themselves along the way because they knew that was the best decision for them even if it hurt. All these people taught me what it meant to have patience, determination, passion, kindness, gentleness, and most of all humility. Because of all of them, I am forever changed, and I hope that I will never forget these things I’ve learned, and will continue to be humbled by these precious lessons and grow to become someone with a big heart full of humility and love.

Picnic in summer at Semnoz

Special thanks

To Emilia, my first friend in France who hung out with me and endured my weirdness despite our countless differences.

To Lilia my 🌻 whom I deeply treasure, who is so patient, so sweet, so kind, so beautiful, always smiling, always excited, always positive, and always so hopeful. Thank you for being the best friend I could ever ask for, for supporting me in my times of need, for accepting me for who I am, for forgiving me for all the terrible things I’ve said and done.

To Annelise who also endured much of my craziness yet still hangs out with me, who always waits for me no matter how slow I am and how far behind I’ve fallen, for being the best American I’ve ever known, for being so outgoing and extroverted, for simply accepting me as a friend.

To Megan my half Asian friend who is always there, super understanding and patient, always giving space both physically and emotionally, for letting me invade yours too, for being one of the few people here old enough to understand the struggles and responsibilities of the adult life, and for all the hugs.

To Mari, my most inspiring Brazilian friend who always reminds me to love myself, live in the moment, and to seek happiness, love, kindness, and peace.

To Thinky Franzi, the funniest German girl who breaks every German stereotype and treats everyone so warmly.

To Franzi H, who is the kindest, most helpful, most genuine, and most humble person who is always sees the best in everyone.

To Daniela, who is never stingy in giving praise and pointing out people’s strengths, always ready to lend a ear and a hand, who is simply great at making friends with just about anyone, and who is always willing to try something new no matter how scared she might be.

To the very young Cecilia, who despite her age, is in fact a very mature and strong girl in the face of difficulties, and one who is ready to challenge the world and fight back when it strikes.

To the only other real Asian girl Helen, who knows so much about the world and yet is still always so curious about learning more, who is always afraid but still tries.

To Michaela who shares the real struggles of life in an authentic manner yet always remains positive and treats everyone equally without judgement.

To the craziest Moza who is always talking nonsense but making everyone laugh and is simply an enjoyable person to be around.

To young Barbara, who always smiles, who is always excitable and curious.

To Luc, my first French friend, who is always so curious and helpful, who loves life, who is inclusive, and always dresses on point (except that one time).

And of course, to my amazing host family and all of their extended family, especially Sylvie, Christian, and tata Yolaine, who welcomed me as part of their family, who made me feel at home and gave me space to be me, who made amazing food, invited me to their parties, brought me on family gatherings, introduced me to their friends, helped me with French, and trusted me with the house, car and children, my most favourite of all, baby Paul who is no longer a baby but will always be one in my heart.

To all whom I’ve failed to mention, Sam, Ham, Megan S, Meg, Gianpietro, Maarit, Irene, Robyn, etc, who were part of the best year of my life, thank you too.

Annecy will always have a special place in my heart, but only because of all the people whom I’ve met here. My experience in the French Alps, no matter how beautiful it is, is made whole only because of the people who lived in it.

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  1. Dear Joette! Meeting you was one of the best things that happened to me here in Annecy! Your maturity and your self confidence taught me that I could face what would appear in my life… thanks for your motivation words anytime I had struggles thinking too much of everything! Thanks for including me in your post and sharing this amazing experience with all of us! See you soon in Mexico or somewhere in the world! 🌎

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